Moor lonely

Mike's mood reflected the dismal weather as he lay in a hole waiting for rescue.

Mike shivered. The weather was not cold for the time of year, but he was wet through. He pulled the zip higher on the collar of his fleece - a futile action because the fleece was as sodden as the rest of his clothes. The grass, the mud, his boots and the rock he was leaning against… everything that he could reach in this dreary hole was completely soaked.

Drizzle. It doesn't hurt the body, but it depresses the soul. A continuous watery hiss, which blows upwards, sideways and down. Inescapable. The clinging mist confined Mike's senses as surely as the injury imprisoned his body. He couldn't go anywhere or see anything. His right ankle was fractured. At least, he assumed it must be broken to have produced so much pain. His only comfort was that the creeping coldness numbed the feeling in his leg, dulling the agony. But not the pain in his mind.

How good he had felt, striding across the moor earlier in the day. The burst of early spring sunshine encouraged such optimism that he struck up a song as he walked (after checking that no one was around to hear the performance). Gathering clouds scarcely dented his elation until the drizzle began to fall, dampening a broad, flat rock just enough to make it treacherous when he stepped on it. He tried to get up when he fell, but the grass was slippery and his leg wouldn't co-operate. He looked all around, but saw nothing. He shouted for help, but no-one could hear him. He was in one of Dartmoor's soggy hollows: quite shallow, but deep enough to hide a man who was lying down. And the night was closing in. Other walkers might have spotted him easily in daylight, if they came close enough, but nobody would come here in the dark and in this weather.

Mike didn't bother to wipe the drips that were falling from his chin and his nose. What point was there when everything about him was already saturated? He wondered whether his bald head would be warmer or colder in the damp air than in his woollen hat, but opted to keep wearing the sodden headgear. Wetness ruled, quenching all hope, and his hopelessness was reinforced by the monotonous noise of the swishing rain, which drowned all other sounds. He knew there must be a road nearby, but no traffic noise penetrated the muffling curtain. He thought of his own car, just as lonely as he was, abandoned in a National Trust car park where overnight parking was banned.

It was the car that alerted the police to his plight. An officer shone his torch at the abandoned vehicle and noted the registration. A number check identified that the car belonged to Mike's employers and a call to the company's traffic office connected them to Bill Johnson. It was lucky that Bill was on duty that night. A fellow walker, Bill had joined Mike on several past outings, and he ventured a guess at the route that his friend might have taken. The clatter of helicopter rotors gradually differentiated themselves from the fussing rainfall and Mike allowed himself a first flickering gleam of hope.

His yellow rucksack reflected the searchlight beam as the chopper homed in on its weary target. Mike marvelled at the skill of the pilot, landing safely on a grassy mound, which was almost impossible to see in the limited visibility. Cheery voices rekindled a smile that had been washed away by the myriad rivulets, which trickled down his neck, his back and his legs. The paramedics splinted Mike's leg, lifted him out of the hole, half carried him across to the helicopter and strapped him into a seat behind the pilot. They fitted him with a helmet, complete with headset and microphone - Mike's first dry clothing for five hours, and a welcome relief from the incessant hiss of the drizzle. In the air, Plymouth's lights, though dimmed by the mist, started to penetrate Mike's psyche and revive his optimism. Dry clothes, warm blankets, hot tea and the ministrations of cheerful nurses set in train a healing process that would have Mike walking again in a couple of months.

© Derrick Phillips - 2000